Reviews  |  PlayStation


Star Ocean: The Second Story
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By Matt Warner / December 8, 2007


Like the Elder Scrolls series' do-anything, be-anything freedom? Like JRPGs at the same time, you fucking weirdo? Well, let's smoosh the two of them together and see what happens!


Perhaps the most surprisingly-Western JRPG ever, the second Star Ocean takes your basic fish-out-of-water, magical-hero-saves-us-all scenarios (you can pick either kind of stereotypical protagonist at the start of the game) and proceeds to slap them together and cram as much crap in the space between as the stitching will allow.


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After a very lengthy and talky beginning and a semi-tutorial first dungeon, you're eventually turned loose on the world map and... woah. It's Morrowind all over again [Note that Morrowind came out almost four years later, but you get his point. --Ed].


You're told where to go next to advance the plot, but very very little is ever done to actually herd you there. A bit of experimentation will find you in places you're not "supposed" to go to until a good twenty hours later. They're not even hard to get to: they're just right there on the map, in the direction you were not supposed to be going.


Of course, if you're persistent enough, you can then pull the Elder Scrolls-stylee time-honored trick of powerlevelling yourself to retardedly high levels waaaaaaay before you even approach cracking the main plot. I'm not talking the usual JRPG level grind, either. I mean, you can, with a lot of luck and prodigious item usage, start killing things way above your level. Which, naturally, churns out an unsane amount of experience and skill points. Start the main plot, and hilarity ensues.


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In addition to the free-roaming aspect, the game also has a staggering amount of crap in it that has nothing to do with anything. You can become an accomplished chef and eventually compete in (and win) an Iron Chef-like TV show, complete with special guest rivals. You can write (and perform) music, with your party acting as a band (or an orchestra, assuming they can all play their instruments). You can train an animal to come to you, give it a shopping list and some money, and have it fly to a store to buy stuff for you, then fly it back to you in the middle of a dungeon. You can write and publish novels, which will not only make you famous, but also very very rich, as you'll be able to collect royalty checks. You can build your own equipment, graft bits of equipment together to make new ones, transmute metals with alchemy, create your own accessories, develop bartering skills and become a merchant -- you can even acquire thief's gloves and pickpocket every single NPC in the game, including your own party members if they're off doing their own thing (don't let them catch you, though, or they're gonna be really fucking pissed off).


And all of that -- ALL of it -- is completely optional.


And added to all this? You have a dating sim.


Yep, not only can your party members grow to like or hate each other, but they can fall in love and have their hearts broken. This depends on a lot of different things (if one character reads a book another has written their feelings might be affected, for example), but mostly it happens in Private Actions.


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Have you ever gone to a town in a JRPG and thought, "Jesus Christ, aren't these guys kinda sick of each other? How come Cloud doesn't just go off by himself for a bit or something?" Well, here they do just that! Your party can split up on entering a town, whereupon the game gives you control of just the main character (i.e. the one you chose in the beginning). You can then run around and interact with your own party members. Sometimes they're not doing anything important; sometimes they're talking with each other; and sometimes they're looking for you! All this plays out in several different branching conversation paths that have loads and loads of flags in them. If Rena told you her birthstone way back in town X, you'll remember this and have the option to bring it up later in town Y, when she happens to be in a jewelry shop. Mention you like jewelry and she sort of makes a crack about you being a homo and you get annoyed with her: your affection level with her will go down a bit, whether you want it to or not. There are hundreds of these sorts of events.


Play your cards right and your entire party winds up hooking up with each other in the ending in some giant hentai orgy that unfortunately they don't show. Rena can get knocked up, though.


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The combat system is real-time with a pause feature. Think of Baldur's Gate with a little Grandia 2 sprinkled in there and you're on the right track. You physically move out of the way of attacks (though things like dodge and parry are factored in as well). The music is catchy, the graphics are crappy in some places and good in others; it's kind of uneven.


It feels like a Super Famicom RPG but blown up to ridiculous proportions -- which of course is exactly what it is. The previous game was an SFC title that was already pretty big, and this was just the next logical step. It also gets it just right.



Note that voice acting in the Western versions is beyond bad. It makes Castlevania sound like Metal Gear. And you have to listen to it a LOT, so expect to be scrunching your nose up in disgust.